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Praise for Mark Leighton

To the Editor:

In the past months we have all heard many rumors about what happened to the bank in Hancock. Some of them greatly disturb me and I'd like to set the record straight on what has happened.

While working for Hancock Telephone Co. from 1986 to 1998 my wife Betsy and I became good friends with Mark Leighton the owner of the independent community bank in Hancock. Mark was one of the first people to make us feel welcome when we moved to town. We remain good friends to this day. Many of the business endeavors I was involved in while working in Hancock would not have been possible without the support we received from Mark and the Hancock State Bank.

When I heard the bank was going to be merged or sold, myself and another banker friend of mine looked hard at purchasing the bank from Mark. While conducting some of the due diligence for a possible purchase I found some interesting facts that I think the public in the Hancock area need to know about. I say all this in support of a good friend and business acquaintance -- Mark Leighton.

We found that for the past two years Mark has not taken any salary, wages or fees from the bank in hopes of helping keep it solvent. We also found Mark personally borrowed money, and used these funds as new capital injections to increase the bank's equity position. Mark now has several hundred thousand dollars in debt and will have to pay back these loans. Mark worked diligently to maintain bank services in Hancock and keep his employees employed.

The agricultural industry around Hancock grew faster than what the bank's internal lending limits could handle. To remain profitable and diversify the bank's loan portfolio from "just" ag, Mark was forced to get involved with outside participatory loans with other banks. A lot of these loans were commercial projects such as: ethanol plants, bio plants, hotels, golf courses, housing developments and the medical industry. No one ever foresaw that this market was going to totally crash and hit bottom due to the economic meltdown. These loans needed to be charged off under new bank regulations. This same scenario has happened to all banks in the country. You can check on the website and see they are being posted on a weekly basis around the country. I thought what was interesting is the loans in and around Hancock and Benson remained rock solid.

I have found Mark to be a hard worker and was always upright and honest in his business dealings with me. I wish him the best in his future endeavors and I hope the Hancock community continues to support him as he continues to operate the insurance agencies in Hancock and Benson.

I wish the folks at Ogema best of luck in their new endeavor. I'm sure they will find out just as I did that the community of Hancock has some of the best customers and nicest people one could ever ask for.

Dean E. Peterson